US 'Zero Option' for Afghanistan Arrives as Ultimatum to Karzai

With Afghan people caught in the middle the idea of a negotiated peace or a thoughtful withdrawal are not part of the dialogue

A full and complete U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan--known as the "zero option"--has now been floated by U.S. officials at the highest levels.

The plan, however, has not been offered as a responsible solution to the plague of war and occupation that has ravaged the country since 2001, but delivered as an ultimatum in order to pressure the Afghan government to agree to U.S. terms over a pending security agreement.

Following the surprise refusal by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a security agreement outlining the terms of a prolonged U.S. occupation, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice issued the "zero option" threat after the Afghan president, citing a "lack of trust," announced his desire to wait to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement until after the next presidential elections in April.

"Ambassador Rice reiterated that, without a prompt signature, the US would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no US or Nato troop presence in Afghanistan," said a White House spokesman.

"Deferring the signature of the agreement until after next year's elections is not viable, as it would not provide the United States and Nato allies the clarity necessary to plan for a potential post-2014 military presence."

Despite cautious approval of the agreement after the loya jirga--an assembly of the nation's tribal leaders--concluded Sunday, negotiations reportedly soured over a diplomatic dinner between Karzai and Rice during which the Afghan president raised the question of the release of Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility.

The Guardianreports:

President Karzai's spokesman said on Tuesday that a blunt response from US ambassador James Cunningham, when Karzai raised the question of the release of Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo, soured what had previously been a constructive meeting.

"The beginning until almost the end was pretty calm and good, although there were disagreements," Aimal Faizi, the spokesman, told the Guardian. "But the comments of the ambassador at the end ... that changed the meeting, from that point."

Cunningham, Faizi said, told Karzai that the peace process was not the responsibility of the US, and the release of prisoners was not part of the strategic pact.


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